Abrahamic Religions, Judaism, Islam and Christianity
"I desire to see peace between the descendants of Ishmael and Isaac. I believe if Abraham the Patriarch were alive today Abraham would desire peace among his grandchildren. Judaism, Islam and Christianity are classified as Abrahamic religions. More recently the B'Ha'i religion also makes that claim due to the inception of the B'Ha'i belief system originating in the country of Iran by a son of Keturah, a wife of Abraham. Peace has become extremely complicated but honoring Abraham should help us treat each other well even if we have differences. We can be good to each other for Abraham's sake." Lemuel Baker
Members of the clergy have the potential to influence the political and social beliefs and corresponding behaviors of their parishioners. We will examine the main axiological or value assumptions of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism and determine any formal or informal guidelines of each religion with regard to this issue. We will identify examples from medieval and contemporary society that demonstrate significantly positive or negative social phenomena that have been inspired by theological rhetoric. We will discuss the following differences and similarities regarding the following belief systems:
Much of the information and data that analyzes how Church leaders influence the political and social beliefs and corresponding behaviors is captured through the Pew Research Center based in Washington D.C. There is data on the political and social behavior for Christians captured in a July 6, 2006 telephone survey consisting of 2,003 adults 18 years of age and older. The Researchers under the direction of Schulman, Ronca and Bucuvalas are confident that the error attributed to sampling is only +/- 2.5 percentage points.
Survey data continually shows across all survey questions a compelling similarity between the values and corresponding political behavior of White Evangelicals and Black Protestants as well as a strong similarity between Mainline Protestants and Catholics.
When we look at salient issues shared by White Evangelicals and Black Protestants such as the Bible being the literal Word of God to be interpreted literally and belief that God literally gave the Jews the land of Israel we are motivated to find out using cause and affect as a rule what source the political beliefs and values originate from. This group is also always sympathetic to Israel in its disputes with Palestine. In contrast Mainline Protestants and Catholics represented by 24% of Catholics and 17% of White Mainline Protestants do not share the literal view of the Bible or believe that God gave the land of Israel to the Jews.
There is however a broad agreement across religious groups concerning scientific advances and the belief it will help humanity rather than hurt it. Nearly 65% across all groups believe this to be true. Survey data also showed that clergy feel more comfortable addressing social issues more than political issues from the pulpit. Over 50% of those who attended church at least once per month said members of the clergy where they worship have spoken out against politically charge issues such as abortion (59%), the situation in Iraq (53%), and laws regarding homosexuality (52%).
Before we look more closely at how clergy address social and political concerns and how clergy influence the beliefs and corresponding behaviors of parishioners we should look at how receptive the congregants are to a social and political message. Across all religious groups 51% say churches should express views on political issues. Interestingly blacks, people fewer than 50, conservative Republicans and Southerners believe houses of worship should speak out on political issues. White Evangelicals and black Protestants favored a very vocal role to express political views.
The data is compelling regarding political and social issues being discussed in places of worship. 92% of respondents who attend church once or twice per month report that their clergy speak out on social issues such as hunger and poverty. 59% of all respondents report their clergy address abortion, Iraq 53%, homosexuality as an increasingly prominent theme 52% and the environment such as global warming 48%. Stem cell research has now entered the social political topics being discussed by clergy at 38% as well as immigration at 31%.
As a result of these issues being addressed congregants are becoming more and more “value voters” particularly in wake of the 2004 presidential election. However survey data indicates that even though some social and political values are imparted to congregants (just a third) from the pulpit respondents (53%) articulated that most of their social and political belief system is shaped by close friends and family. This data may change as religious leaders become more confident to articulate not only general discussions about issues but also to express their point of view on a topic which may be controversial. Currently according to survey data only one-fifth of all people who attend church regularly hear their minister give their point of view on a political issue.
The Pew Research Center shows that the white evangelical Protestants who identify themselves as born again is clearly the most powerful religious force in politics today. Baptists make up the majority of white evangelical Protestants. The mainline Protestants who do not identify themselves as born again are Methodists, Lutherans and Presbyterians. Survey data show this group to have more liberal views across the board and a similarity with catholic opinions on issues.
One of the most insightful sources of Judaism and its axiological influence on the political and social beliefs of Jews is given by Rabbi Levi Brackman. He sums up this value based system stating his view point. As a Jewish leader he feels that all religious leaders who comment on any salient political topic must set aside any personal political bias and give an opinion based on honest scholarship and objective interpretation of Biblical Law through Halakah and Shulchan Aruch and viewed through the thousands of years of Jewish Tradition as discussed in the Talmud.
Rabbi Brackman reports that similar to the strict interpretation of the separation of church and state many Jewish readers commented that it was not the job of a rabbi to comment on politics. He was admonished to stick to religion, the interpretation of Oral and Written law. He was told by his readers this was his role not politics. He was told in no uncertain terms rabbis should keep out of politics. Christians have said the same thing about their leaders; preachers should keep out of politics.
Rabbi Brackman provides some history regarding Jewish skepticism of mixing religion and politics that may not be obvious in the Tanakh itself but becomes evident as Sages discussed the issues in the Gemara and in the Talmud.
The Torah portion of the Tanakh records God appearing to Moses in the burning bush and sends Moses to Pharaoh which was a political mission. Moses was concerned about the mission due to the Jewish skepticism regarding mixing a spiritual mission with a political mission. In their eyes God was not interested in politics thus a messenger on such a mission could not be valid. Thus according to Rabbi Brackman God added miracles to convince the Jewish skeptics as well as the Egyptian skeptics. Rabbi Brackman feels skepticism in Judaism has a very long history.
Regarding the social issue of pro-choice the social and political views are mixed among the Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionists sects of Judaism. Many adherents to Judaism believe there is no quickening of soul for a fetus thus abortion is not immoral. Others like Rabbi Brackman believe the Bible sees human life with infinite value thus except for the case where the mothers life is at risk abortion is forbidden. According to some rabbis an abortion is not a choice God allows humans to make. Thus in Judaism rabbis see the issues through the eyes of the Talmud and if the issues match their belief system then they can support that issue.
In a sense Jews have the source manual for all law making and decision making in the Torah and Shulchan Aruch that has influenced the Judeo-Christian history-value system western society embraces. Thus Judaism defers to the Talmud concerning issues of interpretation as a primary source and do not get confused with discussions otherwise. Rabbi Brackman states the Bible is a divine manual for all mankind which deals with every ethical issue that confronts human beings. Judaism has a very rich history regarding value based government.
Rabbi Brackman draws an analogy using the role of Supreme Court Justices to interpret the law not to make the law. He says in judgment all personal opinions and biases need to be put aside to ensure that an objective interpretation is made. He feels religious leaders when commenting on political issues need to set aside political bias and to give an honest objective opinion based on a Biblical law viewed through the Torah. It is apparent that Judaism forms its social and political opinions from the source documents of the Tanakh and the Talmud and not by popular opinion. This is the posture of Jewish leaders and this is the opinion formed by congregants.
Judaism believes since the time of Moses Sages have been called upon with Biblical obligation to spread the knowledge of the word of God without fear whatever the hot political issue may be. Whether the issue is the peace process in the Middle-East, Iranian Nuclear ambitions or ethical and moral issues at home, rabbis and religious leaders have an obligation to share the views they have garnered from the intense source documents that are the foundation for contemporary law making.
Islam, Judaism and Christianity are classified as Abrahamic religions. More recently the B'Ha'i religion also makes that claim due to the inception of the B'Ha'i belief system originating in the country of Iran by a son of Keturah, a wife of Abraham. Peace has become extremely complicated but honoring Abraham should help us treat each other well even if we have differences. We can be good to each other for Abraham's sake.
Many individuals are still behind the learning curve regarding Islam and as a result afraid and skeptical of the unknown or of the pockets of information they receive about Islam. Much of the perception of Islam is a perception of the Islamist groups within Islam instead of the perception of International States persons who exemplify moderation, sound thinking, intellect and common decency such as the King of Jordon. Such presentations of the Islamic belief system from all sects of Islam should come forward and allow the world to see close up what the true character convictions are that is central to their philosophy for conducting their life.
The Pew Research also indicates that adherents to Islam are harassed in 135 countries partly because they are the second largest religious group at 1.56 billion adherents and because of social hostilities among sects. In Islam much carnage occurs by inter sect hostilities, adherents killing other adherents because of ideological differences and nuances within Islam. The most common sects within Islam are the Sufi adherents - Sufism - mystical approach to find God and to have a direct personal experience with him - The Ahmadiyya adherents who believe Mizra Ahmad was an incarnation of Jesus or or the Islamic prophet Muhammad - Shia Adherents and the largest sect Sunni. Islamists are not considered an official sect and are the most zealous sub culture within Islam.
According to a Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life September 9, 2004 survey of 2,009 adults, 46% of the survey group believed that Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence among believers and that younger Americans under age 30 had a more favorable view of Islam.
Among religious groups the liberal groups such as Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians and Catholics express more favorable opinions of Islam 50%-25%. White evangelical Protestants have a negative opinion of Islam by 46% in favor and 29% not favorable. The data is even more compelling when we look at the white evangelical Protestants who attend church weekly; over 50% of this group has very intense negative opinions about Islam.
Although Americans ultimately form social and political opinions among their close family and friends the clergy has some input into their decision making. White evangelical Protestant leaders obviously share some sentiment with their parishioners to influence the values of congregants and ultimately influence corresponding behavior to distrust any inerrancy of peace within Islam. On the other hand mainline Protestants and Catholic leaders somewhat influence congregants to feel more positively about Islam.
On September 14, 2000 Mr. Samuldrala a Hindu Priest of the Vishnu Hindu Temple in Parma, Ohio opened a session of the U.S. House of Representatives with a Hindu prayer. As the first to do so Mr. Samuldrala was invited as a guest chaplain by Representative Sherrod Brown, (D-OH).
Although this was a social and political statement made by American Hindu leadership, and to influence or help indoctrinate the 435 member House of Representatives who make law, the fall-out and criticisms were inevitable because of the strong prevailing perception that America is still in essence a Judeo-Christian nation. Given perception is reality; Conservative Christians took issue with this act.
Members of the Conservative Christian Family research council FRC issued a response to this behavior. Some of the criticism was that tolerance replaced the 10 Commandments, the Congress now celebrated non-Christian religions, and Congress now violated the wishes of the Founding Fathers due to adopting religious pluralism.
Some of the issues that severely bumped heads with Conservative Christianity were the concepts that were categorized as cultic and witchcraft. Christian Conservatives were appalled at the Pagan or Neopagan content of the Hindu belief system. Everything about the Hindu claim did not recognize Abraham as a Patriarch. A spokesperson for Rep. Sherrod Brown argued it is “unfortunate that the Family Research Council interprets the Constitution to say that religious freedom means Christian supremacy.”
Chandrakant Panse a co-organizer of New England Hindus against Religious Intolerance staged a peaceful march on November 21, 1999 outside Beacon Hill Baptist Church in Boston, MA. She carried signs that said “Respect All Religions” and “Intolerance is Un-American.” The Hindu response to America is to fight for religious tolerance not just for Hinduism. They believe that God is for everybody and all are included. This is their addenda to sell the message we feel pain, your God is not exclusive, we are all the same and there is no need to convert to Christianity.
The driving force behind Hinduism seeking its place in American politics is its own conviction of being the world’s oldest religion. Most Hindus peruse the goals of their religion but there is also a momentum to influence American politics. Most of the indoctrination regarding political aspirations take place among the inner circle of close friends and family but filtered through the customs and traditions that make up Hinduism.
Carl Bielefeldt professor of religious studies for the Center for Buddhist Studies at Stanford University has studied the direction of Buddhism in America. He was one of several scholars who commented on the topic invited by Religion and Ethics Newsweekly. He gives insight to how clergy and leaders of Buddhism may influence the political and social behaviors of the adherents.
Initially we know from the study done at Stanford University that Buddhism has been on the rise in America. It has grown from a marginal religion over a 100 year period to a religion practiced by millions through books, magazines, television and movies. Time magazine runs cover stories on America’s fascination with Buddhism. Buddhism values are wide spread and its values are cited in sports, social events and medicine. Buddhist values are also cited in social movements such as feminism, peace movements and even animal rights movements. Also significantly Buddhist Temples have been erected in growing numbers from California to Iowa and Buddhist studies are well received in many accredited institutions from Smith to Stanford.
The food industry especially the Health Food industry associate Buddhist words such as Zen in the promotion of health related products. Carl Bielefeldt calls Buddhism American secular spirituality practiced by white middle and upper class Americans who are not satisfied with institutionalized religion and searching for something more. Interestingly Carl Bielefeldt says these adherents in America have all the food they can eat, but are still searching for that special flavoring, some psycho-spice of self acceptance, a rare inner herb. These seekers according to Mr. Bielefeldt focus on themselves, how they feel about “me” what institutional religion calls idolatry. The Stanford study shows that the success of Buddhism is fueled by America’s desire to meet that inner need to feel better inside as opposed to self denial that they perceive is required by other religions.
Buddhism has become the “cosmopolitan religion” in the United States because it is the only belief system perceived to have no associations with religious wars, perceived to be totally passive and to have “no edge” to it, a means of total escape from a stressful life. Those who explore Buddhism perceive all other belief systems to require some form of stress, commitment and a requirement to give of your self. Buddhism is conveyed as having a mechanism that gives instead of having to give.
Thomas Tweed professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina has studied what he terms “night stand Buddhists” people who read about Buddhism and are attracted to its concepts but do not belong to any official organization. He also calls this group “Buddhist sympathizers.”
Buddhism as a way of life is a “user friendly” religion in that it blends well with American society and with America’s new cosmopolitan values better than all other religions. If we compare Buddhism to the images of fanatical Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and even Catholics in Northern Ireland we can see that Buddhism portrays a positive user friendly way of life that blends into society easily. Cosmopolitan America and the media views Buddhism as a “model minority religion.”
The assimilation of Buddhism into the political and social beliefs in America may not be attributed to the clergy, or even close friends and families but to western academia. When Stanford University Center for Buddhist Studies organized a retreat the response was overwhelming not only from practicing Buddhists but also from “sympathizers” to explore the spiritual possibilities.
One of the results of this one-day retreat was the ability to capture values that were important to “sympathizers.” It was obvious Buddhist were opposed to liberal America and its interests. The issues discussed were ecology and social justice. The sympathizers were from a demographic group who were educated, affluent and white. There was zero representation from the Latino or Black community and two Asians.
The primary “Church House” for Buddhism is the college campus. The college campus has become a recruiting center for Buddhism and serves to proselytize for the religion. The principal promoters of the religion on college campuses are not members of the group but members of academia who cater to “sympathizers.”
It can be said that using the concept of supply and demand there is such a great demand for the user friendly ideas of Buddhism that academia flourishes as they provide a user friendly product to the increasing number of seekers. Places of business are also using repackaged ideas of Buddhism and serving as a center for proselytizing. We should mention that Buddhist temples serve to educate adherents but more employees will feel comfortable learning about the ideas via college campus education and through the Education Department and Human Resources Department associated with their companies.
Otherwise Buddhism is decentralized and splintered. Buddhists disagree on more than they agree on with no national representation in the United States or official spokes person. Of the three distinct communities within American Buddhism which are the “Hereditary Buddhist who emigrated from Asia, the “Converted Buddhists” who consists of educated white upper class and the Vipassana style of American Buddhism, Vipassana Buddhism has come the closest to being institutionalized as a secular spiritual resource through best selling books such as Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman.
Donald K. Swearer Professor of Religion at Swarthmore College points out that Buddhist Temples serve as important social/cultural centers to help educate its adherents and American Sympathizers regarding Buddhist issues. Wendy Cadge from Princeton University reports that all Buddhist have one thing in common and it is their goal to manage stressful life events.
The secret goal of Buddhism is to totally submerge itself into American culture, social and political infrastructure so that it cannot be identified as long as its concepts are utilized as an integral part in society, politics, business and especially education.
Buddhism for example in its most contemporary form has accomplished the same integration into today’s laws, customs and business environment so that Buddhism cannot be identified unless one consciously compares the information that is carefully mislabeled and relabeled, repackaged as law or culture.